EE: Hiya, Nichelle. Lovely to be here. I must say I was surprised to be asked—I don’t “do” interviews as any of my personas these days, but I thought I would—seeing as it’s you LOL.
NG: Awww! I'm honored to have you on, Emmy! Let's jump right in! How did you start your career designing these fabulously sexy covers?
EE: Years ago my husband was a cover artist. Every Sunday we’d sit together and I’d watch him create them. I’d give some input (usually along the lines of totally non-technical words like, “Make her go all ghosty and stuff!”) and all the while I’d be seeing his mouse hand flying, the cursor zipping about—all too quick to know what he was doing to make things happen. So I decided I wanted to do it myself. I’ve always loved art, always wanted to be able to draw or paint (I can’t. I’m poo at both), so I thought maybe Photoshop was the way for me to go. My first attempts were appalling (cringeworthy, horrid covers that make me blush now and wonder what the heck I was thinking), and trying to learn everything PS does made me a very annoyed person. But, I’m one of those people who won’t let technology beat me, so I kept at it, and here I am! It’s a long process, art. Much like writing and how it evolves as the years go by and we learn something new, for me, art is the same.
As for my full-time job at Total-E-Bound…I believe in fate and that you’re meant to be certain places at certain times in your life. While I created covers freelance for a couple of other publishers, I wrote full time. One day, my co-author and fabulous friend, Jaime Samms, encouraged me to send one of my short stories to TEB. I put it off for ages, thinking TEB wouldn’t accept my work, that they were far too professional a place to want the likes of me (get out the violins—I’m terrible with lack of self-confidence; weird, then, that I create covers and write—both jobs where I can be ripped to pieces, and have been…lovely hazard of the jobs!), but in the end I took a deep breath and clicked send. My book (Think Kink by Natalie Dae) was accepted (I almost wet myself in excitement), and I had the most marvellous editor, Sue Swift. I told her I’d created a cover for that book and asked whether it would be allowed to be used. She checked, and because of the story length, the cover couldn’t be used, but Sue said CEO Claire wanted me to email her about my art.
Insert a WTH moment here. I shook all over, didn’t think I had the courage to email but I did.
I was shocked to be asked to do some freelance covers, then, a couple of months later, to be asked to the Lincoln office. I wasn’t nervous about going—something unusual for me—and I arrived, making, I’m sure, a complete tit of myself by having a fangirl moment at being at their offices. Book covers are in frames on the walls, and it was all so posh and lovely I really did think for a minute I was dreaming. Things like that didn’t happen to me, you know?
Claire and Nicki (publisher) took me out to lunch, where I sat with my macaroni cheese and my pot of tea (haha, what a dork!) while Claire told me about a new position at TEB—Head of Art. I couldn’t believe I was being offered this. Me, some woman who sits in her pyjamas the majority of the time. When we got back to the office, the job was explained to me, and then Claire dropped the bombshell it would be salaried and full time and did I want it. I’ll admit I sobbed—one of those loud, snotty-nosed sobs—and was quite honest in telling Claire and Nicki they had changed not only my life, but those of my husband and family.
Gawd, I’m tearing up just recalling it, but it was one of the best days of my life. I left the office, feeling like I’d known Claire and Nicki my whole life, knowing I’d met people who were as dedicated to making authors’ dreams come true as I am. I felt at home with them. My husband and Smallest were waiting outside in the car. I told Hub our lives were set to change, and it did, and I’ll always be eternally grateful to Claire for having such faith in me. She is THE BEST boss. On March 1st, I will have held the HoA position for a year. I adore my job, hate having any time off, and I work with an exceptional bunch of people who are honest, down to earth, and just plain old lovely.
NG: What an incredible and inspiring story, thanks so much for sharing it, Emmy! It seems most of us struggle with believing in our gifts. I think maybe that's part of the journey to finally embracing it.
Describe the creative process that begins the moment you receive an author's cover art request form.
EE: Each month I visit the TEB database and write down all the covers required for whatever month I’m working on. For example, January means April covers. I then go and type this information into an Excel spreadsheet so I can keep track of which covers are done in one handy place. However, my notebook is the place I “know where I’m at”, along with 4 different coloured markers that mean different stages of my work. Once the covers are written down, I have a look through the Book Information Forms (known as BIFs) and decide which covers would suit the other artists. Once they’ve been selected and I know who is doing what, I go into my cover folder and create a new folder for that month. Inside that folder I create folders for every book. Each BIF is placed in the correct folder.
I hardly ever create them in date order. Some titles pop out at me, some blurbs on the BIFs make me say, “Ooooh, can’t wait to do that one!”, or I just get a “feel” for a cover. What I mean by that is when I read the BIF, I get an instant image of what that cover could look like. Thankfully I manage to recreate what’s in my head onto the cover.
Once the cover is created, I send it to Claire so she can look it over for me. I prefer this because sometimes I don’t feel right about something I’ve done and I’m able to ask if it’s just me being picky or whether there’s a problem. 99% of the time I get the go-ahead to send the cover to the author—I still can’t get over that either!
Cover goes out to author. 95% of the time authors are pleased and accept what I’ve created. I try very hard to make something I wouldn’t mind having for one of my books. I keep going with them until I get them to how I want them to be.
Once the author is pleased, they are given the go-ahead to show it off. I then create the different sizes that are needed for the TEB site, Are and Fictonwise. I load them up, including the original psd, into TEB’s database, then make a note in my book that all I have to do for that cover is create the banner pack (banner, bookmark, postcard, thumbnail) and load the cover onto TEB’s merchandise site.
Then it’s onto the next cover! As well as ebook covers, I create those for print.
NG: Wow! Who knew, there was so much going on behind the scenes to create those fabulous covers! How much freedom do you have to choose images or to take ideas given from the author in another direction?
EE: I choose whatever pictures I feel best match whatever description I’ve been given by the author. Sometimes that isn’t much information and I have to guess, but that doesn’t happen very often. I close my eyes, think what the story is about, and just go for it. It seems to work!
If an author has an idea that isn’t feasible (I give it a good go at trying to do what they want first, though, then if it looks poo I abandon) I create whatever springs to mind after reading their form. I’ve been very lucky—again, it seems to work.
NG: Is there anything authors can do to help you get a clearer idea of what we'd like to see on our covers?
EE: Yes please, and I’m so glad you asked this question.
1. Hair colour, style, length
2. Eye colour
3. Skin colour
4. Saying something like, “Hero looks like Brad Pitt and Hero 2 looks like Roger Moore. Heroine looks like that chick from [insert where she’s from here].”
5. Send links to other book covers on TEB’s site that you like so I can get an idea of what you’re after. It won’t be copied, but it will be a massive help to me.
6. Try to envisage your cover in your head, then tell me what you see. Any and all information is good for me. With things like tattoos or scars, please describe them and exactly where they are. Also good to tell me what position they’re in—so for scars, saying it runs at an angle or is straight across a cheekbone is good.
NG: Is there a particular genre you feel more artistically drawn to?
EE: I can tell you what I hate doing LOL. Only joking… Yes, angels.
NG: OMG, I love your angel work! How long does it take to typically complete a cover?
EE: Average, 2-3 hours (I use a lot of PS paintbrushes to make sky and backgrounds, hair, some clothing etc). I have taken 5-6 on one before, just because I got stubborn and wanted it exactly how it appeared in my head and I wouldn’t let up until I’d achieved that.
NG: Once the cover is finished do you feel like it's your 'baby'? How do you deal with an author wanting to tweak/change what you've created?
EE: No, it’s never my baby. It belongs to the author—that’s what’s in my head the whole time. I want to create something that brings their book into reality, where authors get to see their characters in the “flesh” for the first time. I so much want to create the best I can for them—and I’m not just saying that; I’m devoted to doing this—that the cover isn’t mine. Yep, it’s my work, but… I can’t explain it. The best feeling in the world is when an author is pleased. If I gave them that “OMG, I so love it!” feeling, then my work is done! If I don’t, then I’ll fix it.
NG: Your dedication to the authors shows...we love your covers, Emmy! Have you ever found yourself in a creative slump with a cover? If so, how did you regain your creative inspiration?
EE: OMG yes. A few years ago I created a cover that should have been easy. Author requested 16 changes—I’m not joking—all one after the other. Instead of saying to me, “This, this, this, this (x16 LOL) is wrong, can you fix them?” she asked me after every time I fixed one thing. Now, I don’t mind making changes—this goes hand in hand with why it isn’t my baby; it’s got to fit the author’s book—but that cover sorely tested me. In those 16 changes were two completely new covers, and guess what? At the end she said, “Um, actually, I think you got it right the first time…”
I hate that cover. :)
But that was a long time ago. If I get in a slump now—doesn’t happen often—I leave that cover and start another. Sometimes I scrap everything I did and start again. That usually works. If I’m not in the mood for art at all, or if I’ve tried and I know I’m not going to produce good work, I’m lucky that I can switch to banner packs for the day.
NG: Which artists inspire your work the most?
EE: I don’t have an artist who inspires me on how I do my own work; my style has just evolved as I’ve gone along. I do have three artists who I admire for their own style and sheer beauty of their work. It takes my breath away. Anne Cain. Dar Albert. Lakota Phillips. If I ever get to be that good, I’ll be so happy!
NG: Do you listen to music when you work? If so, what?
EE: Depends if I’m in the mood for it. Most of the time I work in silence because I have a large family and quiet time is rare. I go into my own little world when doing covers and it’s brilliant. But if I fancy a bit of music, and I’m needing to get through the last little bit of a cover and my energy’s on the wane, I slap on Invaders Must Die by The Prodigy. That sorts me out. A good bit of head banging and I’m well away.
NG: lol...Do you have any personal favorites when it comes to your covers? If so, why are these special?
EE: Ah, yes. I have four covers from last year that I actually have on my monitors as wallpaper. Some might say that’s rather egotistical of me, but they were milestones and mean something.
These covers were all created around the same time, and it was the moment where it all clicked and I found myself being the artist I’d always dreamed of being—I could create how I’d always wanted to.
They are Hex and the Single Witch, Bone Idol, Pestilence, and Highland Storm.
My current fave from this year so far is Captive Angel.NG: This cover is breathtaking! Is there any type of cover you haven't done that you'd love to do as an artist?
EE: Yes, a monstery type LOL. Like a fantastical mythical being with scales and wings.
NG: Sweet! What advice would you give to someone looking to become a cover artist?
EE: Practise. A lot. I wish I hadn’t put my first works out there. Hideous. Have faith in yourself. Even if you’re not artistic with drawing or painting, you CAN do this if you dedicate the time and effort. I can’t claim to attending art school, I can’t tell you all the “proper” PS words, but I just know I can make it work and create what’s in my head. You don’t have to have a degree in something to do it. You just have to have that initial dream and the drive to make it real. You can do this—keep telling yourself that and never give up. Don’t sit there and think, “I wish I could create that.” Sit there, open PS, and learn how to create that (www.photoshopessentials.com). I won’t say it’s easy—in the past it’s been frustrating and made me cry (there’s those violins again) but I kept on because I wanted to be an “artist”. I’m still learning, still discovering new ways of doing things. It’s a wonderful journey of discovery.
NG: Awesome cover art is so critical in this business and I've been fortunate to have terrific talent behind my covers. I've often wondered if cover artists feel they don't receive enough credit for drawing readers in with the cover of a book long before they've read the first page. Have you ever felt that way?
EE: No. I don’t think about the cover after it’s done. It isn’t mine. If it gets noticed and people say nice things (always make me embarrassed, and when I see them on Facebook and blogs I go very red and self-conscious) then that’s wonderful because it’s done what it’s supposed to do—get the author noticed. But no, I don’t think about credit. The sole purpose of a cover is so it catches the readers’ attention, not so I can say I made it. That’s my take on it, anyway.
NG: You’re also an author, how do you balance both two pen names and being a cover artist?
EE: Here’s a typical weekday for me. I check emails, log onto Facebook and say happy birthday to whoever’s birthday it is. Switch over to my review site page. Load a review onto the site, then Facebook it. Then I take my smallest to school. Home, make a cuppa, start work. I work from 9-3 every weekday (sometimes longer if I want to finish a cover—I hate leaving them half done). After that I do my motherly/housewifey things, check Facebook again (who doesn’t!), answer personal email (which isn’t often as I’m so busy—sorry!) then cook dinner and chill for the evening, usually with a book.
Weekends are for writing. I’m currently co-authoring quite a bit because I find it easier on my time. A chapter doesn’t take long, so I can get that done and sent back to whoever I’m working with. My current partners when I write as Natalie Dae are Lily Harlem and Sam Crescent. As Sarah Masters, I write M/M and co-author with Jaime Samms. I’m lucky that I can write 10K in one day, so my writing hasn’t taken a back seat at all since I’ve been working full time. I’ve found just writing on weekends has made me get more writing done. Weird how it’s worked out.
NG: That's awesome, I envy your time management skills! What are the differences between Natalie Dae and Sarah Masters?
EE: Natalie writes het erotic romance, Sarah writes M/M. Sarah is by far my favourite. I find it so much easier to write “blokes”.
NG: What are you working on now?
NG: Whew! You're one busy lady! I think you should admit to your superhuman powers! Emmy, thank you so much for taking the time to interview with me! It's been enlightening! I love your work and I look forward to seeing it on more of my book covers! :)
EE: Thank you very much for asking me here and letting me waffle on. I’ll now go back into my cover cave and perhaps come out to play again next year LOL. HUG!
Curious about Emmy Ellis?
Check out her website: www.emmyellis.com
and blog: www.emmyellis.blogspot.com